May History Hits: The Golden Gate

In terms of architectural brilliance and engineering prowess, few structures rival the marvel of the Golden Gate Bridge. Spanning the Golden Gate Strait in San Francisco, this suspension bridge has captured the imagination of millions since its opening in May 1937.

The Golden Gate Bridge was designed and developed by the determination and vision of several remarkable individuals. Chief among them was Joseph Strauss the engineer who spearheaded the project. Strauss assembled a team of experts, including architect Irving Morrow and engineer Charles Ellis, who were instrumental in shaping the bridge’s design and ensuring its structural integrity.

Building a structure of such magnitude presented challenges, such as treacherous waters with strong currents and turbulent winds. However, the engineers persevered, employing innovative techniques and advancing bridge-building technology. The project took over four years to complete and employed over 10,000 workers.

On May 27, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was unveiled in a grand celebration. An estimated 200,000 spectators gathered to witness its inauguration, each of them walking across the newly completed structure. While Californians marveled at their new landmark, the original article from the New York Times announcing its opening wasn’t as impressed. The writer remarks that the Golden Gate’s design was surely derived from that of the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and Manhattan. They go on to say, “it would be wrong to say that the Golden Gate is a better suspension bridge than the George Washington” (1). Apparently, no matter the time period, the rivalry between New York and California is strong.

Despite its dismissal by some on the East Coast, the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge marked a milestone in American engineering history. Its imposing red-orange towers, suspension cables, and Art Deco design have been featured in movies, books, and art alike, ensuring its place as a beloved landmark and symbol of San Francisco.


May History Hits: The Opening of the Golden Gate Bridge

The 1937 opening of the Golden Gate Bridge was a week-long affair dubbed the “Golden Gate Fiesta. “ The event started with a pedestrian only opening on May 27th and then opened to automobiles on May 28th after US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key.

According to the Library of Congress, during the May 27th “Pedestrian Day” over 200,000 people paid a princely sum of 25 cents each to walk the bridge. Black and white films of the day show the excitement and energy.

The Blue Lake Advocate, a Northern California newspaper, reported on an in person visit to the nearly completed bridge by Eleanor Roosevelt earlier that month on May 6, 1937. The paper called her, “M Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Lady of the Land,” and said that she wanted to make a personal inspection of the bridge.  She was escorted on this pilgrimage by San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi; James Reed, general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District; Mrs. Arthur M. Brown Jr., chairman of the women’s division of the Fiesta; and Charles Duncan of the chief engineer’s office. 

It’s interesting that the fiesta had a “women’s division.”

The First Lady’s party could not fully traverse the bridge because of construction, but when she got out to take in the view, Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “It’s one of the greatest sights I have ever seen.” 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Golden Gate Bridge was constructed over a four year span after a $35 million construction bond was approved in1930, and has become an iconic symbol of San Francisco. The 4,200 square foot suspension bridge depends on steel cables to endure the earthquakes that impact the region.

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